essays

I’m Sixty or Thereabouts

elevatorsThe advertising agency I worked at in the late 70s had a block-long hallway that went from the management wing into the creative wing. There were six elevators whispering up and down, delivering us to our day jobs. Of course, the idea of a day job is not a management kind of concept; it was the art directors and writers who viewed things that way. We were marking time before becoming painters or novelists; management people had careers.

It was an odd place, that agency.

With a genius for hygiene and thrift, management decided against carpeting for the creative department. Being an unruly pack of wet dogs, art directors and writers got black linoleum instead, so when we dribbled ink or rubber cement or rubber cementpastrami sandwiches, the mess was easy to clean up. Management was only part right. It was worse. One trick of that pre-computer era was to drizzle rubber cement thinner along the floor and to light it with a Bic.

Back then we drank; we smoked. We came in late; left early. There were office flirtations; one or two affairs; oh well. None of it showed up on one’s permanent record. There was no litigation. Back then we were just people thrown together, working at nonsense stuff, bored or hassled, earnest or competitive, compensating for the facts of life; you gotta have a job, so you might as well have fun.

Don’t you just hate it when people say “back then”? I do. It’s so prissy and carries with it the grim tonnage of comments like: “Back in my day we really knew how to have fun.”

It was all so ridiculous back then. We had no idea of what was really going on back then. We worked, dispirited, at our day jobs, suffered the trivial compelling angst that corporate life creates in a creative soul, drank the daily unremarkable self-medication of big bowl Margaritas. From the linoleum, the antics, the frantic deadlines, dingy barthe meetings, late, the meetings, dispersed, the coffee, burnt, the concepts, burnt, the creators, burnt out; from those things would come the most important, most loving friendships of our lives. Love. That was what we created. Four of my most cherished friends are from back then. All that nonsense; such a great source of affectionate fidelity. I could write a slogan: Out of fertilizer springs the flower!

I remember leaving in the evenings, heading for the downstairs conference room, a dingy seafood bar where writers and art directors congregated, post mortem. And there was a thought balloon over my head: “Some day. Some day. Some day.”   

Surrealist painter and writer Mary E. Carter shows her work (including goose girls, chicken ladies and not so winged creatures) at Flying Falling Floating. The former advertising copywriter is also a published book author.

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